Jul 252012
 
Pressure Gauge

Pressure GaugeI was over on Bullshido and read a thread with the title above, “So I tapped to an anxiety attack.”  Read the ongoing thread here: http://www.bullshido.net/forums/showthread.php?t=117341

The upshot is that a brand new white belt feels pretty down about being pushed beyond the level of exhaustion and tapped out of fear rather than from a technical submission.  Who hasn’t?  I have.  It’s something everyone who trains in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu understands.  Jiu Jitsu is fun.  It’s really fun… but there are times when it’s not fun.  There are times when you have someone putting so much pressure on your diaphragm from Knee on Belly, or smothering your face from North/South that your fight or flight kicks in.  And for someone who has a legitimate, diagnosed condition, such as an anxiety disorder or panic attacks, BJJ can be downright terrifying at times.

I have posted over the years about my own struggles with claustrophobia.  I still tell the story of when I was sparring with Rick (aka Brick), who, while crushing the life out of me said, “This isn’t a submission.  This is just pressure.  Relax and breathe.”  I tapped instead.

But I didn’t quit.  In the article above, posted back in the very beginning of 2010, I outlined a few things that have helped me.  I think they bear repeating, because they’re no less true for me now as a purple belt then they were when I was a blue belt writing that article, or as a white belt struggling to figure out how to overcome the anxiety that I experience when my face is covered.

1:  Look for daylight. If I’m in a position where things are tight, sometimes just turning my head a little so I can see the wide open spaces is enough to quell the panic. Even if I’m really getting smashed.

2:  Relax. My tendency is to begin breathing faster when I’m in a tight spot. I want as much air as I can get, and it never seems like I’m getting enough. If I relax, focus on my breathing and slow things down, I can think about what to do next.  Simply put, keep the rational part of my brain in control and try not to allow the Fight or Flight impulse to take over.

3:  Go into survival mode, keep my elbows in and remember my basics. The single most important thing I learned early on was to keep my elbows in. While that helped my defense, that was only a side benefit. The real value of keeping your elbows in on the bottom is that it helps you control the space, at best giving you an opportunity to hip out or upa and escape. At worst, it still provides a few inches of room. Your forearms might be all that stands between your face and a some hairy dude’s sweaty chest. Now, if that’s not motivation to focus on basics, I don’t know what is, cause I’m on the verge of panicking just writing that.

4:  Confront the fear; start from a bad position. I decided very early that if I was going to make it in BJJ, I’d need to learn to cope with tight spaces. I will almost always pull guard in sparring. I started doing this because I felt that getting on top was a copout and was avoiding the issue.

Now, as then, your mileage may vary.  This is my approach.  I’d love to hear how others have overcome anxiety/panic attacks on the mats.

Mar 012010
 

Jiu Jitsu is a lot like Shrek. Layers. Lots of layers. Ogres have layers. Jiu Jitsu has layers. I’ve been working on deep half guard, along with a specific technique or two from each position. Bullfighter pass here, deep half guard there, yada, yada. Also in the form of disclaimer, these are my blue belt level ramblings, so take them for what they are. Whenever I try to articulate these things, I can’t help but think that in 5 or 10 years I’ll be embarrassed. But whatever. It’s a blog. Right?

We’re always working on something. Whether it’s a guard pass or a position. You ask anyone in jits what they’re working on and they’ll probably tell you something without any hesitation. “Oh yeah. I’m working on X, Y and Z.” But in the background, I’ve been mulling over the larger issue of pressure. In Jiu Jitsu, it seems to me that pressure is one of the keys to good Jiu Jitsu. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about 300 lbs gorrillas smashing the little guy. That’s pressure, for sure, but in my opinion, that’s the least important form of pressure. Pressure, in some form or another, creates opportunities. If I’m controlling pressure, I have the advantage. If I’m not controlling pressure, I’m ceding advantage to my opponent. Productive, controllable pressure comes in many forms.

Physically, pressure manifests through superior technique, superior pace/conditioning and strength, usually in the form of pressure being exerted on a person. At the same time, mental pressure has a lot to do with it, as well. Mentally, pressure has a lot to do with perception, coming from within, although even here it can have a lot to do with one’s opponent.

Physically, have you ever rolled with someone who weighs about 160 lbs, but feels much, much heavier? Conversely, there’s the 220 lbs guy who just doesn’t feel all that heavy. That’s all technique, having learned how to maximize the amount of physical pressure being exerted. This kind of technical pressure is just crazy. When I was in California last year to watch the Mundials, we had a chance to drop in and train with one of my Coach’s Coach, Giva Santana. Giva was rolling with Bing and just crushing him.

Because it’s technical, it can be learned. I tend to think of this technical, physical pressure in terms of control rather than of weight. Some things that contribute to the perception of increased pressure are where the pressure is being exerted, and conveying a feeling of being trapped. For example, if I’ve got my opponent in my side control, I can increase the amount of pressure by focusing on driving my shoulder into his face, keeping him from turning in. I can also pin his hips in one of many ways. While I’m not actually putting any more weight on him, the perception is that there is more pressure. I know I’m locked in tight when my opponent can’t turn away and can’t turn in. I’ve got my hips low and while I’m not crushing him with all 180 lbs, I’m pretty sure he’s feeling it.

In a similar way, I’ve had 300 lbs guys go to knee on belly and, sure, it’s uncomfortable. Another guy I train with, his knee on belly is a killer. I swear, he’s about 200lbs and feels like he weighs a ton. It’s crazy how much of a difference there is. Gravity hasn’t changed, so clearly there must be some technique involved.

But beyond this technical pressure, there are guys who create a sense of urgency in their opponents. I roll with some guys and they never settle in. They move from one position to another gracefully and give the sense that they’re always one step ahead (whether they are or not). This is a different kind of pressure, but it’s just as important. New guys lock in. White belts tend to close their guard and hold on for dear life. This is the pressure that you experience when you’re rolling with someone who makes you feel like every move you make is exactly the wrong one.

Related to the last are the pressures that come from pacing and conditioning. This is the kind of pressure that guys can exert by just being energizer bunnies. Always moving, always attacking. What makes this different from the last, is that this is independent of skill really. Instead of creating a sense of urgency in my opponent by staying ahead of them strategically, I’m really just going flat out, balls to the wall crazy. In a white belt, this will often lead to a lot of tapping out. As we get more technique, however, it can create opportunities as long as the technique is sound.

We were doing a guard pass drill one time in Bing’s Wednesday class. “No strength. Work your technique,” we were told. I get grips and pull guard and WHAM! my training partner got grips, worked some mojo and quick as that he was passed my guard. Bing looked over and said, “Speed ain’t strength.” Of course, he’s right. But speed and athleticism can create pressure.

Mentally, we tend to be our own worst enemies. Pressure can come from a perception of inferior physical ability or skill. “I’m not going to try to sweep him. He’s too big.” Or maybe, “I’ll never catch him. He’s a black/brown/purple/blue/whatever belt.” I’m not sure what I can really say about this. I think I’m among the worst around when it comes to dealing with self-derived stress. What do I do to break out of this? Well, I try to compete when I can. I try to spar with guys who I know I don’t match up well against. These are the guys who kill me every time.

This kind of mental pressure can also be cultivated by gaining a reputation with certain techniques or positions. “Oh, man. So and so has a killer half guard game. Get caught in that and it’s over.”

There are guys who are really good at psyching their opponents out. It’s a gift some people have. I’m not sure if it can be taught, but it’s definitely there.

I don’t have many answers yet, but that’s okay. I may never have the answers. But I think that pressure is a key, and whoever wins that battle, exerting more pressure than the opponent, ultimately comes out on top.